Symphony orchestras around the world, presumably in order to mitigate financial pressures, have turned to Hollywood in the last few years, and Australia is hardly immune. At times it seems that one of our major orchestras is playing the score to another Harry Potter film every other week. There may have been an artistic case to make when the scores came from major film composers like Bernard Hermann, Ennio Morricone, and John Williams – film composition is, after all, a natural extension of the Wagnerian concept of Gesamtkunstwerk – but it is no accident that the major behemoths of popular culture, Disney and Marvel, are the most represented. There is something unseemly in the image of a great cultural institution scampering around the feet of the conglomerates, as it nibbles on the scraps that fall from their populist tables.
So it is a relief to see Melbourne Symphony Orchestra team up with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis in a concert of that pair’s singular compositions for film. Within the opening bars, the artistic integrity of the exercise is fully apparent. Cave and Ellis have had a long association, dating from the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album Let Love In (1994). Ellis has been with The Bad Seeds ever since but also has his own highly acclaimed reputation as the violinist frontman for the instrumental band Dirty Three. It has been tempting for fans of both musicians to regard their film music as a sideline act, a mere footnote in their discography. After this collaboration at Hamer Hall, they may have to reconsider. The film music of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis seems integral to their entire output, a distillation of their individual artistic concerns.